Embattled Irish patriarch blasts his former counsel

Sean O'Neill, who battled prosecutors in separate cases against himself and two of of his three children, is still fighting the legal system, but now his focus has shifted to criticism of his former attorneys, one of whom cost nearly half a million dollars.

For two hours today, the 51-year-old Irish patriarch tried to convince U.S. District Judge William Yohn that his guilty plea to weapons, tax and immigration charges in 2009 was coerced and should be withdrawn. "I went along with it then; I didn't want my wife arrested," O'Neill testified, admitting that he swore under oath that he was not pressured to enter the plea.

O'Neill said three of his attorneys told him his wife, Eileen O'Neill, would be charged with evading taxes. Prosecutors alleged that she used a cash payroll for some of the employees at Maggie O'Neill's, a Delaware County pub the couple used to own.

Asked by Yohn why he admitted guilt that he now disavows, O'Neill said, "I'm an educated man. I knew the answers you needed to hear....I wasn't guilty of them charges, your honor. I'm sorry...I did not want to see Eileen go to prison."

O'Neill testified that he ran a construction business. "I had nothing to do with Maggie O'Neill's," he said.

 His testimony echoed the testimony of his wife, but contradicted testimony from three of the half-dozen attorneys the couple consulted, all of whom said O'Neill knew exactly what he was doing. Both O'Neills testified that the attorneys, one of whom was an immigration specialist, never told them that pleading guilty would result in O'Neill's permanent banishment from the U.S.

Under cross examination by Nancy Beam Winter, O’Neill admitted that he lied multiple times during his plea hearing, and was just "following the lead" of his lead attorney. O'Neill testified that he paid the law firm an upfront fee of $250,000 in the fall of 2008 and had to put one of his properties up for collateral when he got a bill in May 2009 for $220,530.77, which did not include an estimated $75,000 sentencing cost.

The judge asked O’Neill whether he thought the statute of limitations would now prevent his wife from being arrested if O’Neill were permitted to withdraw his guilty plea.

“I know nothing about the statute of limitations,” O’Neill responded. “I want to go to trial.”

After the hearing, Winter said the government would have three months to file tax charges against Eileen O’Neill. She and defense attorney Cheryl A. Sturm will make their final argument tomorrow. Yohn did not indicate when he might issue a decision.

O'Neill, first came under scrutiny in September 2006 when his 17-year-old son shot and killed a Cardinal O’Hara High School classmate during an underage drinking party at the O’Neills’ Willistown Township residence.

A  search of the family’s 14-acre property along the Chester-Delaware county line led to the weapons charges against O'Neill Sr., who had no prior criminal history. While he was awaiting trial, his oldest daughter, Roisin, drove drunk on I-476 in Plymouth Township, killing a Massachusetts grandmother.

Investigators also uncovered evidence that O'Neill used a sham marriage to enter the U.S. and falsely represented himself as a U.S. citizen.

Roisin O’Neill is serving a five-to-10-year prison sentence. Her brother returned home after completing two juvenile treatment programs.

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